Navigating London was something I genuinely loved doing. Getting lost was a thrill to me, and I always had a map handy just in case. However, in order to fit into this elaborate and diverse culture, I realized there was more I had to do. After some time, I got mistaken for a Londoner by tourists who came to the city from all over the world. The moment I opened my mouth and they found out I was American, they would kind of stare at me for a while as I navigated them to their destination without looking at a map. So, if you’d like to exude the confidence of being mistaken for a local, here are 6 things you need to know!
Get the London Look
It’s all about style! Sorry, but you should refrain from wearing sweatpants in public. The day I walked into my first study abroad class and saw people in heals and cardigans, I knew I had to do some shopping. If you want to be mistaken for a local, you need to dress the part. Dressing down is not an option. The best way is to go to local fashion giant Primark, Europe’s JCPenny but cheaper! You don’t need to be a model, but you need to be presentable and pretend to know about fashion. Sit in Hyde Park and observe all the trends walking by!
Know Your Way Around
Take the bus around town and hop on and off. The underground is definitely for a rainy day or if you’re running late. However, by bus, you can see the whole city and discover new spots to check out. By doing this, you familiarize yourself with different areas of the city you would have never seen if you were on the underground. Mastering the underground is a whole different topic, but that moment someone asks you in the middle of Trafalgar Square, “Excuse me, how do I get to Westminster Abbey?”, you can spew all your knowledge because you took the time to take the bus or walk it out! London seems like a huge city, but it’s so much smaller than you think.
Know Your History
Maybe I’m just a stickler, but I feel like if you’re going to live in another country, you should know its history. London has been invaded by the Romans, ruled by a plethora of kings and queens who weren’t exactly angels, and was the center of the peace-love revolution of the 1960’s. London will always be one of the “places to be”, so take a walking tour of the city, or take one of those hop on/hop off buses which is beneficial to anyone going to London for the first time. The city offers tours such as the Sherlock Holmes walk (YES!) and a walk of Beatles landmarks such as Abbey Road Studios. Therefore, when someone comes to visit you, you can knock their socks off with all the knowledge you’ve acquired, like, “Hey, see that giant hill over there? That’s Primrose Hill from 101 Dalmatians where they do the Twilight Bark.” Thank you, Disney!
Enjoy the Parks
London has some of the best parks. Not only are they giant and filled with endless pathways, but they are well kept. When you get bored, you can just have a sit in the park and people watch (which is something I did almost every weekend). Grab a magazine, have a sandwich, and relax. Again, by looking so confident reading a British tabloid, people will automatically come up to you and ask for directions. Also, the parks are a great way to clear your head after a week of homework and studying.
Go with the (Traffic) Flow
Literally, go with the flow! You can be mistaken for an outsider if you’re in the middle of the sidewalk, walking at a slow pace. Keep up with the crowds, check oncoming traffic, cross the streets safely, and jaywalk to your heart’s content (NOTE: Not for the faint of heart)! When I would go out and about with friends in London, many of them hated how fast I walked and how I would decide to cross the street at the last minute. It’s all about navigation and getting to where you need to go. If you attempt to slow down, you might be trampled by the crowds, but no worries, if you have your eyes and brain focused, you’ll be a master navigator in no time!
Know Your Lingo
Depending how long you stay in London, you’ll start hearing your Midwestern accent fade, and you’ll develop some sort of American-British twang that will take you by surprise. You should be prepared to know some British terms, like ones that you can use when someone pushes in front of you when you’re waiting for the doors on the Tube carriage to open.